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Gqom is the explosive South African sound bursting into Europe

Durban’s Club 101 is the epicenter of a distinctly township take on house music

  • Words: Wil Crisp | Photos: Al Nicoll
  • 2 November 2016
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While enthusiasts like Gift remain addicted to the classic gqom sound, the electronic music coming out of Durban’s townships is rapidly evolving. After his set Thuksin introduces me to other DJs and producers who are playing pool in the bar area next to the rooftop dance floor. “Styles and trends change quickly in the townships,” says Thuksin. “The gqom being produced today is totally different to the gqom tunes that were being made two years ago – and many producers are branching out into other genres.”

Currently, Thuksin is mainly producing ‘sgubhu’, an increasingly popular genre that uses a similar sound palette to gqom, but is closer to deep house when it comes to rhythm and tempo.

“People still love gqom on a night like this, but as a producer sgubhu offers more opportunities,” says Thuksin, who, like many other gqom producers, began producing at a very young age – in his case 14. “It has a groove that gqom fans can move to, but it’s less harsh. It’s not as strange or extreme. It’s a sound that’s more likely to be picked up by music industry executives and be played on the radio in South Africa.”

While gqom has seen increasing interest overseas – with high profile producers like the self-proclaimed ‘gqom king’ DJ Lag travelling to Europe to play gigs – this increased interest has largely failed to translate into increased earnings

At around 5am Club 101 shuts for a couple of hours before re-opening to cater for clubbers who want to enjoy what Durbanites call a ‘morning bang’. As the second closing time approaches, rowdy devotees spill out into the narrow alleyway that runs alongside the club , many jumping into taxis and cars heading out to unlicensed venues in
the townships where they can continue the party.

As we dodge peanut-sellers and a few lurkers in the alleyway, Gift asks if we want a lift to an all-night gqom club 30km out of the city centre.

“The heartbeat never stops,” he says, with a grin.

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